With its 2013 appearance on “America’s Got Talent,” the dance company known as Catapult burst into the national consciousness. Since then, its unique blend of dance, acrobatics and mind-blowing illusion has drawn gasps of wonder from audiences worldwide.
Troupe members — who will be performing Oct. 18 at the Marie W.Heider Regional Art in West Salem — contort their bodies to cast shadows behind a giant screen. The seamless transformations they create can be astounding. “How did they do that?” is a question often heard after a show.
Shadows morph into frogs, dolphins or mermaids. Dancers somehow become the Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal, a bicycle, a gondola or a helicopter. A mother’s curly hair turns into the top branches of a tree from which a child swings.
With good reason, critics have lauded the “limitless imagination” of the group’s founder, Adam Battelstein. Meanwhile, Battelstein says that Catapult’s dancers are among the best in the world. “They’re literally stars of stage and screen,” he said.
Battelstein’s opinion carries considerable weight since he spent 19 years with another highly acclaimed dance company, Pilobolus.
“There comes a time in every artist’s life that you have to break with your mentor,” Battelstein said of his departure from Pilobolus.
Although he left Pilobolus on good terms, Battelstein did so because he wanted to try something a bit different.
“Pilobolus basically does modern dance,” he said. “We are more of a storytelling and illusion company that makes shapes the way a magician makes shapes. What is similar is that we both do things that are beautiful.
“Also, our stories are clearer while there’s are more oblique. Some people like that mystery, but our stories are more accessible — you do know what’s going on.”
Battelstein said ideas can come to him when daydreaming or in bed. “Or sometimes I’ll see a shadow and get an idea — ideas are not the problem, though,” he said. “The really fulfilling part is seeing something you’ve thought of come to life.”
That’s why Battelstein says that the best part of Catapult for him is the joy of successful collaboration with the other dancers. “Sometimes people will come up with things you’d never think of on your own,” he said.
Asked about the most memorable feedback he’s received after a performance, Battelstein said while it’s gratifying when audience members tell him they loved the show and want to bring their grandchildren or their grandparents back to see it, for him the most meaningful reviews are the ones he frequently gets from regional theater directors.
“You would think they see so many acts that they’d be a little bit jaded,” Battelstein said, “so when they tell you ‘this was the best show we’ve ever had here’ that really means something.”
Although Catapult’s Oct. 18 show will be its first appearance in the area, Dan Heerts, the Heider Center’s arts director, is familiar with the group and already a big fan. “They are just amazing,” he said.
Heerts added that, for the first time, tickets and seat selection for Heider Center shows can be made online at www.heidercenter.org. As in previous years, they can also be purchased in person at the Heider Center box office or by calling 608-786-2550.